Tag Archives: popular fiction

14 days ’til Christmas: The Literary Agency Advent Calendar

In the run up to Christmas, the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency will be posting an entry from one of our authors each day, offering anything from writing tips and their inspiration, to Christmas memories and their wishes for the year to come.


Jemma Forte

A Mum’s Christmas Carol

On the first day of Christmas my daughter gave to me – not enough notice to knock up a costume for the school Nativity (she’s a Nazarene…?!)

On the second day of Christmas my mother gave to me – a long phone call about who was going to cook what, give what, buy what. She also became the eighty fifth person to ask me what the kids wanted so I scraped the barrel. Some……pens..?

On the third day of Christmas the postman gave to me – red and white cards which indicated I needed to go to the post office to collect my ‘home deliveries’. Again.

On the fourth day of Christmas the school gave to me – an extended shift at the fair on the tombola

On the fifth day of Christmas the school fair gave to me – not five gold rings but a nice virus that’s been going round and apparently is more contagious than the plague.

On the sixth day of Christmas my back gave to me – a slipped disc bought on by trying to simultaneously push two supermarket trolleys, both of which were filled with enough food to feed eight hundred giants for three weeks. Have we got enough crackers/dates? ‘No one likes dates.’ ‘It doesn’t matter. Grab three packs. Just make sure we’ve got all the random stuff we’ll be too full to eat. Have we got enough? HAVE WE?’

On the seventh day of Christmas my diary gave to me – three nights out in a row which I faced with steely, grim determination.

On the eighth day of Christmas I gave to myself – such a big hangover it nearly caused me to pass out in the aisles of Sainsbury’s where I’d popped back for ‘a few bits I’d missed.’

On the ninth day of Christmas my son gave to me – a weepy moment after I’d put him to bed and heard him singing Little Donkey to himself in the dark. It’s the unexpected moments that get you.

On the tenth day of Christmas my credit card gave to me – a minor heart attack when I realised that yet again I’d gone over budget by several hundred quid.

On the tenth day of Christmas my home gave to me – the problem of where to actually hide all the crap I’d bought for the children. Should I sew it into my duvet? Bury it in the garden? I have no more space. Perhaps I’ll hide it in the kitchen cupboards and sellotape said cupboards shut.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my greed gave to me – cellulite and a complexion resembling suet.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my partner gave to me – an argument about what it was exactly he was doing to help with project Christmas apart from buy his Dad some socks.

And then it was here and my family gave to me – a day to remember. And suddenly, it all seemed worth it. Merry Christmas everyone!

Jemma Forte‘s latest book, IF YOU’RE NOT THE ONE, explores the possible lives of Jennifer Wright, who falls into a coma after an accident and there experiences the turns her life could have taken had she stayed with three of her old boyfriends. Published by Mira Books in February 2014.

IF YOU'RE NOT THE ONE by Jemma Forte


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These tips are surprisingly obvious, but time and time again I read submissions that are weak in one, if not all, of these areas:

KEEP YOUR CHAPTERS SHORT: each chapter should be between 10 and 15 pages long to keep the reader’s attention.  Create a mini drama in every chapter and have a hook at the end of each one so that the reader finds it impossible to put down.  Long chapters can slow down the pace.  With the rise of the eReader, and shorter attention spans, short chapters are even more important.

CHARACTER: it is all about your main character – you have to create a real authentic character that readers can automatically empathise and identify with.  Readers want to warm to your central character.

PLOT : nowadays, a highly original concept works wonders – something you can pitch in one single line that will make people instantly intrigued and desperate to read your story.  Publishers like to instantly see how they can pitch the book to supermarkets and booksellers.

And finally, when I studied creative writing at St Andrew’s University my tutor, the poet and writer John Burnside, gave the class essential advice in three simple words: REWRITE, REWRITE, REWRITE.  Make sure that every word is absolutely needed.  Any excess words will slow down the pace.  Fantastic dialogue and fairly short descriptive passages work wonders.

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Most agents have a wish list or books that they have loved, so here are mine:

ONE DAY by David Nicholls

All work by Maggie O’Farrell

MIDDLEMARCH by George Elliot

All work by John Fowles


All work by Sophie Kinsella

FUGITIVE PIECES by Anne Michaels

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MY CLIENTS: Adult fiction

I thought I would share with you my wonderful of authors and their latest books:

J.J Salem THE STRIP / Pan Macmillan, July 2011

      Carolyn Jess-Cooke THE GUARDIAN ANGEL’S JOURNAL / Little, Brown / Piatkus, Apr 2011

      Ella Kingsley CONFESSIONS OF A KARAOKE QUEEN / Little, Brown / Sphere, Dec 2011

   Victoria Fox HOLLYWOOD SINNERS / Harlequin / MIRA Books, Apr 2011

Carrie Duffy IDOL / HarperCollins, August 2011

     Martel Maxwell SCANDALOUS / Penguin / Michael Joseph, 2010

  Cally Taylor HEAVEN CAN WAIT/ Orion, Oct 2009  

Anna-Lou Weatherly CHELSEA WIVES / HarperCollins / Avon, 2012 publication – cover in production!

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